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Gurgling Noises from my Kitchen Sink

As humans, we are naturally wary, cautious, and even afraid of things we don’t understand. This stretches throughout every aspect of our lives, from involuntarily ducking when we hear unexpected sudden loud noises, to more mundane aspects of our day-to-day lives. Like plumbing.

Most of us aren’t plumbers, so when a plumbing problem arises, we tend to get a little worried. Not least because we are often completely in the dark as to the severity of the plumbing problem, and how much damage it could cause, or even already be causing. Gurgling sinks are often like this for most of us. We know there’s a problem, we know it’s plumbing related, but what is the plumbing problem and how serious is it?

There are a number of reasons why you might experience gurgling noises coming from your sink, with varying degrees of severity in terms of how big a problem it is. The good news is that even in the worst-case scenario, a gurgling sink should be the start of a more serious problem, meaning you will be able to save yourself a lot of expense and frustration by dealing with it quickly.

We’ll get into the common causes of gurgling sinks shortly, but first, we thought it would be useful to reiterate that you are not supposed to wash debris—like chunks of food and fat—down your kitchen sink drain. It often falls under one the category of one of those things that “everyone does” despite knowing they shouldn’t. As we will see in the next section, flushing fat and pieces of food down your kitchen sink is one potential cause of a gurgling sink, as well as blocked drains and general foul smells coming from the sink drain.

Common Reasons Why Your Sink is Gurgling

There are very few problems that could cause kitchen sink gurgling that are easily fixed without professional help, but understanding the problem at least helps you get a mental grasp of the situation. With that in mind, here are the most common reasons you might hear gurgling noises from your sink.

Water Has Been Recently Turned Off

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This one would be your best-case scenario as far as gurgling sinks go, as well as the easiest one to identify, as a very specific set of circumstances would lead to this problem. If the water has recently been shut off to your house, or perhaps part of the property’s water system has been isolated and drained as part of some plumbing work, it could have caused the pipes leading to your kitchen sink to empty.

This is fine, of course, but when you first turn the taps back on, you might hear a loud gurgling, almost banging noise from the pipes.

This is unavoidable and perfectly safe. We would suggest maybe standing back a little as the water comes through, as it tends to burst out of the tap erratically and with a lot of force as the pipes fill back up, which can result in you getting a little wet if you’re standing right next to it.

Vent Pipe is Blocked

The insides of your drain pipes are more complicated than you might expect. The movement of water and air through the pipes is often obstructive, meaning that one gets in the way of the other because there is nowhere else for it to go! Or, at least, there wouldn’t be, if not for vent pipes.

On the surface, water can pass through air with ease because that air can just move aside. In your drain, this movement is facilitated by having a vent pipe to allow the air to flow up and out of the drain, preventing pressure build up when water is flowing into the drain, and preventing suction when water is flowing out of it.

Because the air in question is sewer gas, you don’t really want it venting anywhere near where you are, which is why these vents are often above roof level. Unfortunately, that subjects them to all manner of floating debris, such as leaves and twigs, not to mention any nesting animals that might have taken a fancy to it.

When this happens, the air movement has to come from somewhere as the water isn’t just going to sit in the drain in defiance of gravity, so it is forced out, often through the P trap under your sink, which is full of water. As the air is forced through that water, it gurgles.

There is no immediate danger with this cause of sink gurgling, as the worst problem you should face is unpleasant odours accompanying the gurgling noises (it is sewer gas, after all). However, you should still get it seen to as soon as possible, because the associated pressure build up on your drains and other plumbing fixtures puts additional stress on the system.

Clogged Drain Pipe

In effect, the problem with a clogged drain pipe is the same as the problem with a blocked vent, it is just the mechanism that is different. When your drain is blocked, it can result in air being trapped behind the blockage, unable to safely vent or be pushed down into the sewers. 

This poses the same problem as the blocked vent in that you may experience unpleasant odours coming through your sink with the gurgling sound, but the overall situation is a little more serious.

If there is enough of a blockage to trap air, there is enough of a blockage to trap any other bits of debris that are floating in the drain water, thus increasing the size of the blockage and exacerbating the problem. If left untreated, it could result in a complete blockage, preventing water as well as air from getting through, and backing your sink up. And, to compound matters, if the blockage has reached a stage where it is completely blocking water from passing through the drain, it is unlikely any conventional drain cleaning products will make any kind of progress against it.

Incorrect Installation

Possibly the most straightforward explanation for gurgling noises that are coming from your sink because of the drain is incorrect fitting. If the pipes that lead away from your sink are not properly sealed or have been installed in an improper way, it could be allowing air to get in, causing the gurgling noise you hear as that air works its way through your P trap. Worse still, if your sink was installed by someone who did not know what they were doing and didn’t put a P trap in place, you will be exposed to all the noises your drain water makes on its way down, not to mention the smells that are coming back the other way from the sewer.

Shut-off valve on copper pipe; blowtorch in background

Why a Gurgling Sound?

There are typically two fundamental causes of the noise—water funnelling down a drain, or air bubbling up through the water. The acoustic nature of a typical plumbing pipe often makes these sounds seem louder than they are, and once the noise has filtered up from your drain, the two different versions of this noise can be very hard to distinguish.

The important thing is that you do not mistake sounds that are obviously not gurgling for this, as things like banging and hissing indicate very different problems indeed.

Is it Safe?

local plumbers

If the problem is new, you should be perfectly safe from any potential property damage for the time being. As mentioned above, some causes of gurgling sinks are more serious than others, but you should aim to get the problem dealt with as soon as possible regardless of what you suspect the cause is.

If for no other reason you might be wrong about the cause, but also because very few plumbing problems get cheaper to repair the longer they are left. By getting the issue dealt with early on, you will not only avoid potential damage to your property, but you might even save money on the cost of the repairs!

Get a Professional Diagnosis From a Qualified Expert

There isn’t much you can do to resolve these issues without a little plumbing know-how. If your problems stem from a blocked drain, you could dry some off-the-shelf drain cleaner, but there’s a good chance it has progressed too far for that if you can hear gurgling.

We also wouldn’t recommend you climbing up to your roof to clear the drain vent, and if your sink was improperly installed once, there’s no sense in attempting to right the problem yourself, potentially improperly installing it a second time!

A qualified plumber will not just be able to fix the problem, they will be able to expertly diagnose the cause of the problem quickly, whereas you might end up throwing bottles and bottles of drain cleaner down your sink only to realise the problem was your drain vent all along! So don’t risk exacerbating the problem or dragging it out longer than it needs to be—get a qualified expert to do it for you.

Get a quote from an expert today!

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